Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2011
Source: Patriot Ledger, The  (Quincy, MA)
Copyright: 2011 GateHouse Media, Inc.


Given the myriad ways canines have been trained to use their powerful 
sense of smell, it is not hard to imagine they could be taught to 
differentiate between a large quantity of marijuana and less than an 
ounce. Until that time, police may be wasting their time using 
drug-sniffing dogs as the basis for pot arrests, such as the one on 
Route 3 last month. It's the latest indication that while the state's 
2008 marijuana law may have put the proper emphasis on casual pot 
smoking, it has created a frustrating barrier between police and 
their ability to pursue more serious drug crimes. In the Route 3 
case, State Police smelled marijuana on the breath of the two 
passengers in the back seat of a taxi that had been stopped in 
Hingham for a broken license plate light.

When the officers then let a police dog sniff around, the animal 
signaled that it smelled drugs in the trunk. When it was opened, a 
suitcase containing 13.5 pounds of marijuana was found.

The passengers, from Watertown and Falmouth, were arrested, but 
questions have arisen as to whether police had probable cause to 
conduct the search. An April ruling by the state Supreme Judicial 
Court prohibits police from searching a vehicle solely because they 
smell marijuana. Voters in 2008 made possession of one ounce or less 
of marijuana a civil infraction and not a crime. The court wrote that 
police cannot discern by smell alone whether someone has more than 
one ounce of marijuana.

Marijuana activists say the ruling should apply to drug dogs, too, 
and legal experts are unsure how this will be resolved.

Massachusetts isn't the only place where loosened pot laws have 
created a haze of confusion.

Thirteen states have already decriminalized possession of small 
amounts of marijuana and similar proposals are before legislatures in 
Connecticut and Rhode Island.

There may be valid arguments for the decriminalization of pot. 
Prosecution of such cases require several court appearances by 
police, prosecutors and public defenders and in many instances they 
were dismissed. But it's becoming increasingly clear, as many in law 
enforcement have long stated, that an attempt to treat one group more 
leniently has come with unintended and troubling consequences.

It is an untenable position that needs to be addressed by the 
Legislature and the court.
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